Opinion: Should the IndyCar Series be worried about its future?
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The IndyCar series is gaining in popularity, not only in the US but around the world.
The television audience is up by about 20 per cent so far this year, brought about by new broadcast arrangements and an increase in international availability making the series available to a wider audience.
But race crowd attendance figures have declined at many events over the past couple of years with the oval races bearing the brunt of that fall off.
That is also affecting Nascar as that series lost more than 50 per cent of its audience over the last 15 years.
Be it broadcast or attendance, the numbers lag way behind Formula 1, even with the decline in TV viewing and race attendance at many grands prix.
It seems the strengths of the series are also part of the reason for many fans of yesteryear to drift away. While the racing is close, many in the US bemoan that the cars are basically all the same in specification.
With just one chassis supplied universally by the Italian Dallara company (which also supplies chassis to the HAAS F1 Team) and with only two manufacturers supplying the engines, there is little point of difference between the cars except the driver.
Even with cars so closely matched it appears, as in Formula 1, that the lion’s share of the wins are distributed between just three of the large, better resourced, teams, Penske, Ganassi and Andretti. The only winning teams so far in 2019 out of 16 regular entrant teams.
Not an unusual state of affairs for many racing series but while Formula 1 is being heavily criticised for being too “high tech” IndyCar is accused of being “not tech enough”.
The damaging split between CART and the “Indy Racing League” (pre-curser of IndyCar) in the 1990s still echoes and the crowds may never return. In Mario Andretti’s words: “The split probably lost us an entire generation of IndyCar fans.”
At least the series is now unified and progressive.
The series formerly known as CART and Champ Car used to be the definitive and iconic American open wheel series. If any European driver entered the series, it was considered to be because of a failure to make any success of a career in Formula 1.
Now the series is being viewed more as a destination for drivers rather than a default category.
As the series claws back its fan base the international appeal, fuelled by television, is growing. With the huge interest created by the news that McLaren is making a full time entry in 2020 that exposure will increase.
Apart from the competition’s strength, an international grid of drivers, the fact that a budget for an IndyCar season resembles the hospitality budget for an F1 team, the series has a clear direction.
Perhaps the last words should be from Andretti, quoted in Forbes business magazine: “Since we’ve come back together, we’ve seen the sport begin to rebound.
“This is more than just North American drivers, they’re from around the globe. IndyCar has an international appeal that works well with not only fans, but the businesses that sponsor teams, and use IndyCar for business-to-business relations. It’s back and doing well.”
I hope, fervently, that he is right.